Beards over time; Facial hair and the Economy

Research starts with a question. Here's the question:
Do you see more people with facial hair when the economy turns south? Or, does facial hair run on its own cycles?
Luckily, lots of historical data is available about the economy. We have freely-available records of unemployment, market returns, and recessions are studied extensively. But what about beards... we can only access a full library of tagged and timestamped photos for the full US population back through 2007 with Facebook timeline. We'll want to span over several generations with this research using a reliable representative of men's fashion over each year.

Equire's Apparel Arts (then Gentlemen's Quarterly, now just GQ) is just the type of source we need. In it is a collection of photos and articles showing the latest trends in men's fashion. The Philadelphia Central Library has the full collection of microfilm and prints needed to make this analysis possible.

METHOD

Over the course of a few visits, I viewed each volume of Apparel Arts/GQ from 1950 until today and tallied the number of men in the issue, whether they had a clean face, a beard, a moustache, or both. Su also helped. To make it manageable, we only looked at March issues of the magazine. Then this information was plotted and compared to economic indicators.

OBSERVATIONS

There were plenty of auxiliary observations during this analysis.

Goatee and Beards

In all the magazines we looked at, people in GQ magazine never have a beard without a moustache. That means no chin straps, goatees, soul patches, chin curtains, or mutton chops. Actually there were two exceptions... and both times it was Abraham Lincoln.


The 70s

No discussion of style in the 70's would be complete without groovy looking girls and the iconic lettering (left and right). In the middle is the original Maxell ad. If you paste the image that I scanned from a 1971 magazine, Google Images immediately finds the corresponding video of that commercial. Scary.


The 80s

There's Chuck Norris workout instructions back from when it was mustache only. No surprise, leg stretches are an important prerequisite... stretching to about the height of another person's head. Also, an article on facial hair in history.


Stubble


From 1950 through 1999 nobody in the GQ magazines we observed had any stubble / scruff / five o'clock shadows. EVERYONE was clean shaven or had an honest beard/mustache. This is despite George Michael's alleged popularization of stubble in the 1980s. Now, in my generation I always thought it was Justin Timberlake who brought stubble into style (with Like I Love You, 2002). However, GQ suddenly featured many men with stubble starting in 2000 until even today. Timberlake shows up on the scene as 2009's most stylish man in America... with the same stubble from 7 years ago.


RESULTS

Following are the results.

  • This includes the front cover: number of people with facial hair or clean shaven. Front covers without photos of men are excluded.
  • Percent of men in articles and advertisements with facial hair.
  • US unemployment rate
  • Recessions (grey bars)



CONCLUSIONS

Although everyone talks about the "recession beard" or the "laid off beard," there is little evidence showing this is a widespread phenomenon. Currently (2010s) we are coming off of an unprecedented  trend of beards on the front cover and moderately high beard levels. This seems to be a week trend that has run its course. Recommendation: short Norelco / long BiC.


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